Games Reviews

Review: Hearts of Iron 4: Man the Guns

The key concept when discussing Man the Guns is depth. At launch Hearts of Iron 4 was a fun, yet oddly shallow look at World War 2, but the scope of the game has been broadened by substantial updates and expansions in the years since. The latest expansion, Man the Guns (and the free update it’s releasing with, Ironclad 1.6) brings some much-needed reform to many overlooked features of HOI4. The end result is that we now have a much more complex and interesting grand-strategy war game.

First, a disclaimer: the addition of fuel, naval terrain, the ability to customize game rules, and the addition of new states are all part of the free update, as is the new naval combat system. In typical Paradox fashion, the paid expansion has concepts that expand upon these new features.

The free features are vast and certainly game-changing, but I’ll be focusing on the premium content that you actually pay for. We’ll probably do a deep dive on these features at a later date.

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FOCUS! FOCUS!

New Focus Trees: US, UK, the Netherlands, Mexico

In Man the Guns, the US and the UK get new focus trees, both focused on offering alternative historical options. The new options add a lot of flavor and unpredictability to a playthrough, as both states can become embroiled in civil wars and flip to either Communism or Fascism (or Royalist Non-Aligned for the UK). This heavily alters the course of ‘The War’, either powerhouse sitting it out to deal with their own struggles or joining the Axis or Comintern.

The other two states with new focus trees are the Netherlands and Mexico, both packed with further ahistorical options and more depth, as before they were pretty generic states. The new trees are a welcome change as they give you a reason to play one of these generally overlooked nations, but they don’t always mesh particularly well with other unique trees. In my game as the Netherlands, I sided with the Democratic states of Europe against the Axis, but the options to progress further down in my focus tree were blocked off. The UK had gone Fascist, preventing me from democratically allying with them as my focus tree planned, and there was no option for me to join the French Entente until I had been attacked. The increasing specificity of unique focus trees means that your options may suddenly get cut off, which can be frustrating when you’re unable to backtrack up the tree and select the other path.

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IT’S A PARTY, AND THE ALLIES ARE INVITED

New Political Feature: Governments in Exile

The other main political feature added with Man the Guns is the ability to host a government in exile, or play as one yourself. As a European Democratic state, your days are numbered when you start a HOI4 game where Germany goes on its historical warpath. But now, after the Germans take over, you can continue the fight in smaller ways, like lending political power to your host country, as well as bringing an amount of experienced divisions and equipment over. The amount of help you bring is scaled on how hard you fought before you went under; if you left immediately and sent all your divisions to Great Britain, there won’t be a very large bonus.

If you stayed and fought to the last, your Legitimacy (the bonus in question) will be much higher. The host government, as the Legitimacy of the guests increases, can train divisions of the exiled forces who excel at fighting those who just took their land from them, as well as deploy experienced foreign airwings, and use experienced exiled generals. The exiled governments can request expeditionary forces, so you can essentially remake the Free French Army by creating an all French army with a French general, and handing them over to the exiled government. It’s normally a drop in the bucket in the grand strategy scheme of things, but it is a nice reflection of the efforts of the continental Allied governments.

New Political Feature: Docking Rights

Tired of having to bring your far-off and battered fleet halfway across the world to repair? Now you don’t have to! You can now request docking/repair/refitting permissions at allied ports, and if granted, they will pay for the repairs.

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BUILD-A-BATTLESHIP

New Naval Feature: Ship Designer

The real star of Man the Guns is the ship designer, and the accompanying naval update. Ships are now separated by hull-type, and you can select what sort of equipment you’d like your ships to have. Facing a swarm of enemy submarines? You can slap together cheap destroyers with depth charges, sonar, and not much else. Enemy planes sinking your battleships? You can outfit cruisers with extra AA guns, fit to take on swarms of torpedo bombers.

You could theoretically follow the super-battleship line of thinking to its conclusion, and just have an extremely heavy hull with gigantic guns. However, pre-war, major powers will have to subscribe to the ship tonnage limits set by the 1936 Treaty of London. In practice, this sets “cost” limits on ships, and the losers in the First World War have a lower cap. This can be cheated by spending political power, but the leash only really comes off after the war starts. The ability to fine-tune your fleet is reminiscentof Rule the Waves, which is an excellent game to emulate. This kind of in-depth customization is a very exciting change, and hopefully Paradox brings more content like this.

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New Naval Feature: Naval Mines

Ships can also add mine-laying or mine-sweeping equipment for the new naval mining feature. This adds an extra layer of defense to your important coastal regions by increasing the likelihood of accidents for enemy ships, but it requires a fair amount of mines to be laid (the max for a region is 1000) before the odds of those accidents start to get likely. In practical terms this means you’ll need a sizeable fleet of dedicated Mine-lying designs, or a big head-start in terms of laying down those defenses.

New Naval Feature: Customizable Shipping Lanes

If your shipping is going through a region with a heavy concentration of mines, or enemy ships in general, not to worry! Man the Guns brings the ability to exclude sea regions to shipping (including troop movements), forcing them to take a different route, which you can use to avoid the mines as well as enemy-patrolled seas.

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New Naval Feature: Admiral Traits

But for when you do want to cruise through enemy seas, your admirals now have traits like their land-based counterparts, so they can be tailored to fight with specific ships or in certain sea terrain.

New Army Feature:  Amphibious Vehicles

The last major naval addition to Man the Guns is actually army-based. New Amphibious tanks and troop transport equipment have a major bonus to naval landings and river crossings, making them a welcome addition to any state’s marine divisions. The first and second tiers of these vehicles function as less fuel-efficient versions of their tier one and tier two land counterparts. They perform well into the mid-game and naval campaigns, but they will fall off in usefulness in late-game slogs across Europe.

And the rest…

The above are the headline features, and what we think really makes the expansion stand out. There’s plenty more smaller changes that come as part of the expansion, such as unit models, the ability to take over a faction etc… for a full breakdown, Paradox’s own Patch Notes that are released on the eve of major content releases are very thorough. They also perfectly breakdown what you’re paying for, and what you’re getting for free.

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SEAING IS BELIEVING

So, we come to the $20 question: is Man the Guns worth buying? If you enjoy playing smaller powers (specifically, Mexico and the Netherlands), want more alternate history routes, or really love naval warfare, definitely pick it up. This game does for naval combat what Waking the Tiger did for Land Combat, so for naval powers this is a must.

On the other hand, if you only ever play Nepal and/or will never really set foot on the sea, you can probably skip for now, maybe look to picking it up when it’s on sale. Regardless, Man the Guns marks a standard of strategic depth for Hearts of Iron 4 and is a further step towards making it a truly great WW2 war game.

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